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Portlanders urged to help quell gang violence

Mayor Charlie Hales called on all Portlanders to do something to help stop increasing gang violence during a City Club forum on the problem last Friday.

Calling himself “an aging baby boomer approaching retirement,” Hales said he planned to volunteer with community organizations that work with at-risk youth after leaving the mayor’s office in January 2017. However, he said there were many other things Portlanders can do, too, ranging from volunteering at schools to contributing to such nonprofits as Self Enhancement Inc.

“There are a lot of good-hearted Portlanders who can support such work,” Hales said.

Although the forum titled “An Epidemic of Violence in Portland” had been scheduled for a while, it came at the end of a week of shocking gang violence in the city. Police responded to more than six shootings that included three homicides since Nov. 4. The surge in shootings pushed the total number of cases assigned to the police Gang Enforcement Team to nearly 170 by Nov. 13, well over the record of 118 set in 2012.

City Club President Greg Macpherson noted 12 people have been killed by gang violence in Portland so far this year, more than the 10 killed at the mass shooting at Umqua Community College that generated much more press attention.

The third homicide took place the day before the forum. Other suspected incidents of gang violence have occurred since then. They include an early Saturday morning shooting where one person was wounded and an early Sunday morning shooting where a house was struck.

The forum featured a panel discussion that included Arthur Davis, a 27-year-old former gang member who is working to turn his life around after growing up without a father due to gang violence and serving time in prison.

“I had no positive role models growing up and felt I had to get revenge for his death,” said Davis, who says he now spends much of his time raising his children and advising gang members to start over. “I want to be the positive role model I didn’t have in my life.”

Another panelist was Erin Fairchild, director of the Defending Childhood initiative of the Multnomah County Office on Domestic Violence. She said much gang violence is the result of children witnessing and experiencing domestic violence and abuse growing up, which leads them to accept violence as an everyday part of life.

“Toxic trauma affects children’s brains,” said Fairchild, who announced she is working on a community summit for next spring aimed at young African American men and those who support them.

Also speaking was Kimberly Dixon, the mother of Andreas Dixon, who was killed in Gresham on June 9, 2013. She talked about the enduring pain of losing one of her children to violence and urged the City Club members to realize it affects the entire community.

“Somehow we all have to wake up. It’s now our epidemic problem,” said Dixon, who also called for increased funding for mental health services to help those traumatized by violence.

The panel was moderated by Antoinette Edwards, director of youth violence prevention for the city.

“This is a crisis, but there’s also hope that by working together, we can make a difference,” Edwards said.